Saturday, August 04, 2012

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Jonathan Chait points out how the gap between the citizens hardest hit by a weak economy and a political class which faces virtually none of its effects explains the lack of urgency in dealing with mass unemployment:
The political scientist Larry Bartels has found (and measured) that members of Congress respond much more strongly to the preferences of their affluent constituents than their poor ones. And for affluent people, there is essentially no recession. Unemployment for workers with a bachelors degree is 4 percent — boom times. Unemployment is also unusually low in the Washington, D.C., area, owing to our economy’s reliance on federal spending, which has not had to impose the punishing austerity of so many state and local governments.

I live in a Washington neighborhood almost entirely filled with college-educated professionals, and it occurred to me not long ago that, when my children grow up, they’ll have no personal memory of having lived through the greatest economic crisis in eighty years. It is more akin to a famine in Africa. For millions and millions of Americans, the economic crisis is the worst event of their lives. They have lost jobs, homes, health insurance, opportunities for their children, seen their skills deteriorate, and lost their sense of self-worth. But from the perspective of those in a position to alleviate their suffering, the crisis is merely a sad and distant tragedy. 
- David Atkins follows up on digby's analysis as to how a push for additional handouts to the rich is aimed at insulated today's upper class from the vagaries of luck which helped it to win a privileged position in the first place. But as thwap points out, there are some wealthier citizens who are looking to improve matters for all rather than closing off the path behind them - and we should be happy to encourage that sentiment.

- Meanwhile, Sid Ryan discusses one of the obvious elements of that effort: a focus on "flexible" labour which ensures that ensures most workers have neither reasonable wages nor any job security. (And lest there be any doubt, there's plenty of desire for the latter.) But sadly, far too many anti-worker governments - including Dalton McGuinty's Libs - seem to prefer picking fights with workers to keep them as insecure as possible.

- Finally, Ken MacQueen neatly sums up the Cons' Olympic spirit.

Friday, August 03, 2012

Musical interlude

Way Out West - The Gift (2010 Remix)

Friday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to end your week.

- Tim Harper suggests that the Cons are running out of options to try to push the Gateway pipeline on a thoroughly-opposed public in British Columbia. But in keeping with the Cons' general view of the world as nothing but a public relations problem to be shouted down for financial gain, James Moore and Gwyn Morgan are sure they have the answer: more high-priced spin from Enbridge and other tar-sands operators. And pogge rightly notes that part of the anti-environment strategy figures to include an effort to paint all environmental activism and advocacy as "terrorism".

- Carol Goar comments on the continuing efforts of Canadian doctors to save health care for refugees from the Cons' cuts:
Rashid, a family physician, is one of the founders of Canadian Doctors for Refugee Care, which has vowed to track and report cases of death or serious harm resulting from Kenney’s $20-million-a-year cutback.

It took effect a month ago. But reports already are coming in: a 7-year-old epileptic boy in Hamilton was hospitalized for a severe seizure because he could not get medicine; a woman who had endured multiple rapes after she was sold into the sex trade couldn’t get an ultrasound for the fetus she was carrying; a Colombian man is desperately fundraising to pay Toronto General Hospital for life-saving abdominal surgery; two refugee claimants in Ottawa — one Peruvian, the other El Salvadoran — have stopped taking their post-traumatic stress medications.

By fall, the doctors hope to have a compendium of cases from across the country. A local delegation of medical workers will show up every time a cabinet minister makes an announcement, the government calls a news conference or Parliament holds public hearings to highlight specific cases. “None of us wants to disrupt meetings, but we really feel we have no choice,” said Tim O’Shea of McMaster University, who works as a medical consultant at the Shelter Health Network in Hamilton.

Since April, the doctors have been asking Kenney for a meeting on this issue. So far he has refused.
- Meanwhile, the Star rightly points out that the Cons' thoroughly-discredited finger-pointing over Attawapiskat did nothing to help the underlying housing crisis.

- Finally, the Star-Phoenix weighs in on the need for some answers about Robocon:
It is rare for Elections Canada officials to speak out about investigations before they are concluded, and the agency receives dozens of complaints after every election. Often it takes years to clear these files.

But the allegations that voters in some ridings received socalled robocalls misdirecting them to wrong voter stations, or calls from people alleging to be from particular parties who acted in an obnoxious or insulting manner in an apparent attempt to discourage their votes, is a little more serious than candidates complaining their signs have been defaced.

If these allegations are true, it strikes to the heart of Canada's electoral system. For a democratic system to function properly the electoral process must be considered trustworthy. And for a democratic government to rule with authority, the public must have confidence it legitimately came to power.

Thursday, August 02, 2012


Jim Flaherty...
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said Monday new rule changes to define "suitable employment'' and "reasonable'' efforts at finding work have yet to come down, but as far as he's concerned people should be prepared to take pretty well any available job.

"There is no bad job, the only bad job is not having a job,'' he told reporters. reality:
By 2011, results from a longitudinal study of over 7000 people were being reported, enabling assessment of the effects of moving in and out of jobs of high or low quality. Poor jobs were defined by a suite of characteristics including high demands, low control, unfair pay, and insecurity. The results showed that when people moved from unemployment to a good job there were beneficial effects on their health, but that moving from unemployment to poor jobs was actually detrimental on some health measures. “We find that jobs with poor psychosocial attributes are no better,” wrote the team, “and may have even more adverse effects on mental health, than unemployment.”

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Mitchell Anderson reports on how Norway has assured itself of long-term fiscal security by saving a fair share of its oil resources:
Norway produces 40 per cent less petroleum than Canada and has one-seventh our population, but has saved more than $600 billion in oil revenue and counting. This is equivalent to about 140 per cent of Norwegian GDP, or about $120,000 for every man, woman and child in the country. In contrast, every Canadian is in the red about $16,000 due to our $566-billion national debt.
While Canada is eliminating 19,000 public sector jobs in an effort to balance the budget, Norway is debt-free, enjoys full employment and has fourth highest per capita GDP in the world. Canada is twelfth.

Beyond economics, Norway is an obviously fortunate place to live. It is routinely ranked number one in the world on the Human Development Index, is the world's best-governed nation according to the Democracy Index, and is the best country in the world to be a mother.

And in spite of being the world's third largest exporter of crude oil, Norway is ranked number three in the world on the Environmental Performance Index. Canada is thirty-seventh (behind Nicaragua, Albania and Columbia).
How is all this paid for? Since the 1970s, Norway as a matter of policy has collected between 70 per cent and 80 per cent of the resource wealth generated from their oil industry through corporate taxes twice as high as Canada, and a special tax on oil profits. In Alberta, royalties collected on all oil sands production in 2010 were 10 per cent of industry revenues.

Norway also required that foreign companies train Norwegian workers, transfer proprietary technologies to their state-owned oil company Statoil, and in some cases even hand over producing oil platforms free of charge after a predetermined period.

This insistence on national participation has paid off. Companies controlled by the Norwegian taxpayer now directly own about 30 per cent of the nation's oil production, providing another significant source of income as well as technical input on how their resource is developed.
 - Michael Harris questions the RCMP's move into environmental politics:
What a remarkable coincidence. The Mounties are worried about those very same radical environmentalists that Natural Resources minister Joe Oliver says want to use foreign money to hijack hearings on the Northern Gateway Pipeline. The same ones that the man who is cornering the market on Fossil Awards, Environment Minister Peter Kent, said might be “laundering offshore foreign funds.” No really, David Suzuki is Meyer Lansky with an electron microscope.

And here I thought the RCMP was about enforcing the criminal code in federal matters, not the government’s energy policies. I wonder if this transforms Christy Clark from a poker-playing politician into a radical environmentalist? I wonder if farmers who opposed ditching the Canadian Wheat Board will show up in some future de-classified RCMP threat assessment for opposing government policy? (Never forget, they have combines.) Or maybe there will even be a thick file on poor scribes critical of corporate wars, sleazy politics, suppressing public information, ministerial mendacity and forbidding Canadian public servants and scientists from speaking?
- Meanwhile, the Cons have made clear that they feel entitled to proclaim their supporters free of any law they don't like. And apparently the rules surrounding honesty and transparency in government advertising are on that list.

- Finally, CTV reports on the latest steps in the New Union Project which could see a merger between the CAW and CEP.

New column day

Here, on how the Gateway pipeline serves as a prime example as to why governments shouldn't be too quick to minimize environmental assessment processes.

For further reading...
- Robyn Allan's latest discussion of the Gateway pipeline is here.
- Kevin Logan documents Christy Clark's position prior to her latest desperate call for attention.
- And David Anderson delivers his view of Enbridge and the Gateway pipeline.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- The presidents of Canada's provincial Federations of Labour highlight how the provinces need to respond to the Harper Cons' efforts to push down wages and trample on workers' rightst:
Canadians need our country’s premiers to denounce this low-wage agenda and stand up for what is in the best interest of working people.

When the premiers meet this fall to discuss the economy, we believe the labour market ought to be front and centre in that discussion. They must denounce the exploitive expansion of the (temporary foreign worker program). They must collectively demand that Ottawa invest more in training to bridge the skills gap, so that unemployed Canadians can fill available jobs.

Premiers should also call for improvements to Canada’s EI program, as fewer than 40 per cent of unemployed Canadians are currently eligible for benefits. We need our premiers to challenge the notion that Canada must increase its retirement age to 67. What’s really needed is pension reform that will allow all Canadians to retire in dignity, such as improving and enhancing CPP. And finally, the premiers should recognize and defend the important role unions play in our society and our economy.
- Meanwhile, following up on yesterday's post, SGEU, CUPE, SUN, the Saskatchewan Building Trades and Rosalee Longmoore all provide their take on the employment and labour law review. And the Saskatchewan NDP plans to carry out real consultations where the Sask Party has fallen short.

- Pat Atkinson notes that Stephen Harper's absentee federalism is producing unintended consequences when it comes to the Gateway pipeline:
A common-sense approach would have had our PM meet with the 13 premiers to hammer out a Canadian energy strategy. And while Harper was at it, he also could have discussed the preservation and reform of medicare and equalization. Instead the premiers were left to grapple with these issues without federal input.

The "my way or the highway" attitude exhibited by Harper on these files, especially health care, underlines the weakness of his government's approach to federalism - attempting to govern Canada by strict adherence to the division of federal and provincial powers. This hasn't worked in the past. It promotes unilateralism, as witnessed by Clark's actions, and it ignores the reality of governing a modern day nation that's dealing with complex and important issues.

B.C.'s move should spur Harper to begin the dialogue of strengthening the unity of this nation through co-operative federalism - an old fashioned but still relevant idea.

The premiers, in the most diplomatic of terms, have invited the prime minister to their next meeting in November. Their message is clear: There are important public issues that will take both the federal and provincial governments to resolve.
- Finally, Heather Mallick reminds us that we should celebrate our legacy of universal health care.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Decked-out cats.

Tuesday Evening Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- George Monbiot discusses the effect of inegalitarian and austerian policies imposed by the UK Conservatives:
(T)he neoliberal programme has closed down political choice. If the market, as the doctrine insists, is the only valid determinant of how societies evolve, and the market is dominated by giant corporations, then what big business wants is what society gets. You can see this squalid reality at work in Cameron's speech last week. "We have listened to what business wants and we are delivering on it. Business said, 'We want competitive tax rates,' so we are creating the most competitive corporate tax regime in the G20 and the lowest rates of corporation tax in the G7 …". What about the rest of us? Don't we get a say?

The neoliberal hypothesis has been disproved spectacularly. Far from regulating themselves, untrammelled markets were saved from collapse only by government intervention and massive injections of public money. Far from delivering universal prosperity, government cuts have pushed us further into crisis. Yet this very crisis is now being used as an excuse to apply the doctrine more fiercely than before.

So where is the economic elite? Counting the money it has stashed in unregulated tax havens. Thirty years of neoliberalism have allowed the super-rich to detach themselves from the lives of others to such an extent that economic crises scarcely touch them. You could see this as yet another market failure. Even if they are affected, the rich are doubtless prepared to pay an economic price for the political benefits – freedom from democratic restraint – that the doctrine offers.
- Meanwhile, Andrew Jackson points out the Canadian Tax Journal's feature on tax-free savings accounts as a gratuitous giveaway to the wealthy.

- Alice takes a look at the fund-raising trends for Canada's political parties, with perhaps the most interesting development coming in some of the names showing up on the NDP's donor list:
(A) quick scan of the party donor lists hints at another part of the explanation. With names like Louise Arbour (if it's the same person, once touted as a potential Liberal leader), and that of a former national campaign director for the Green Party showing up on the NDP's return, it suggests the strategic voting / contributing card is being played by the NDP for a change.
- Linda McQuaig laments the fact that climate change is apparently being treated as something less than newsworthy even in the midst of a summer loaded with extreme weather.

- Finally, Jason Kenney and his staff are coming up with news ways to try to silence anybody who actually cares about the well-being of refugees in Canada. But thankfully the Law Society of Upper Canada wasn't willing to play along with a frivolous complaint which could have served as a precedent to silence professionals across the country.

Employment & Labour Legislation Submission

Plenty of others will be chiming in today on the future of employment and labour law in Saskatchewan; here's my personal contribution.

Many other voices have expressed concerns about the limited amount of actual consultation provided through the within process. My intention is not to merely echo those concerns (however valid), but to take at face value the prospect of improvement to Saskatchewan’s employment and labour legislation.

The same factors which necessitated the passage of labour standards legislation in the 20th century are no less applicable today. Work remains one of the fundamental elements of the lives of most citizens, based on both the income it provides and the social bonds developed in the workplace.

Workers have a strong interest in being able to progress from an entry-level job into a long-term career involving professional and personal development. And the uncertainty of employment markets can be expected to lead to some risk aversion, as workers prefer to maintain a current position rather than changing employers more than necessary.

But at the same time as workers prioritize personal stability and growth, many employers appear inclined to favour disposable labour. This tendency has been assisted by immigration policies expressly intended to facilitate the performance of work by temporary workers whose immigration status is tied solely to the whims of an employer. And so a stark power imbalance remains between employers pushing for the maximum advantage from workers and governments alike, and workers who may see stable employment as an integral part of a full life.

Ideally, the continued imbalance between workers and employers could be reduced substantially through an improved system of social support.

A guaranteed annual income would ensure that workers have some alternative to remaining with a current employer - encouraging workers to pursue options including alternative employment, education or entrepreneurship rather than considering themselves bound to cling to a single job in order to maintain a reasonable standard of living. In addition, improved income security would facilitate the investigation of employer violations of workplace standards, as the cost of potential employer retaliation would be far less severe to a worker deciding whether or not to report problems at a place of employment before they reach the level of a severe injury or death which attracts outside attention.

Absent the implementation of a more thorough social safety net, the next best option would be to strengthen protections for Saskatchewan workers within a statutory framework no less comprehensive than the present one.

Among other options, this could include:
- a minimum wage set at a level sufficient to ensure that no full-time worker in Saskatchewan lives in poverty, and indexed to real costs of living (with some continued monitoring to ensure the level remains adequate);
- protections for workers based on the exercise of the rights listed in sections 4-8 of the Saskatchewan Human Rights Code, in contrast to the current statutory protection which is limited to employer discrimination based on prohibited grounds;
- closing loopholes in the present legislation, including by reducing the list of employees excluded from the scope of the Labour Standards Act; and
- reinstating "card check" certification as a genuinely efficient and fair means of providing for representation in workplaces under circumstances where a certification vote is neither necessary nor efficient.

Unfortunately, many of the measures proposed in the Consultation Paper represent a step in precisely the wrong direction. Indeed, the focus on rewriting existing labour standards to accommodate practices which may currently be illegal sends a strong signal that the primary purpose of the consultation exercise is to further undermine workplace protections.

In particular, any excuse for employers to pay less than the general minimum wage based on age and disability will both devalue the work performed by the affected workers, and push down wages across multiple categories of workers. Likewise, an enforceable right to contractually require workers to work otherwise-prohibited overtime hours would substantially negate any work-life balance for precisely the workers who are most vulnerable. And a labour relations system which imposes disclosure requirements on unions which are not paralled among employers, which allows employers to refuse to submit union dues to a duly certified bargaining agent, or which allows an employer to choose the bargaining agent certified to speak for its workers as a matter of convenience, would plainly accomplish little other than to shift yet more workplace power into the hands of employers at the expense of Saskatchewan workers.

In closing, the development of a system of employment and labour legislation (with underlying social supports) should indeed be considered a work in progress. I trust that upon hearing from affected workers, this government will reverse its intentions to try to undermine the progress made to date.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Rick Salutin discusses the link between parity of wealth and democratic participation, while pointing out why there's reason for people to engage much more in the latter
(W)hy didn't the majority ever vote to expropriate the rich and take all their stuff? Perhaps it isn't that they were duped by media or agreed with the way things were. Maybe their ambitions were always modest: they didn't begrudge the 1 per cent what they had, so long as it left a decent life for them and their families.

Most people I know are fair-minded in that way. Perhaps, too, they'd rather not do unto others what's been done to them, reducing themselves morally in the process. When the recent eruptions began, it was only because the 1 per cent finally went too far. There's also the fact that in current circumstances a small narrowing of the income gap, a reintroduction of regulation and some concern for the environment may seem almost as utopian as a workers' revolution used to.
- Robyn Allan takes a closer look at Christy Clark's attempt to sell off British Columbia's natural habitat and coast:
There is a false narrative being advanced. Demands to share government revenues — which include income, sales, property, corporate and other taxes—from crude oil pipelines — in order to compensate for their inevitable environmental cost means the best we can hope for is a zero sum game. That doesn’t make any sense — its like saying you can punch me in the face as long as you pay for the dental work.

Clark’s setting herself up as the hard negotiator when there’s nothing to negotiate. British Columbians don’t want heavy crude oil piped through the province or shipped in oil tankers. It’s not a question of whether the economic benefit outweighs the environmental cost — that’s a false dichotomy. There is no economic benefit for B.C., and the study Clark points to — under scrutiny — comes out looking like nothing more than false promises.
- There's never been much doubt that the Cons have been perfectly happy to see public institutions burned to the ground. But I didn't think they'd ever advance that goal quite so literally.

- Finally, if Con cronies peddling insider access say we shouldn't worry our pretty little heads about Con cronies peddling insider access, who are we to question?

[Edit: added link as per comments.]

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Sunday Afternoon Links

Assorted content to end your weekend.

- Lana Payne criticizes two forms of cash hoarding: both the assets sitting idle in corporate coffers, and the money that's been funneled offshore by wealthy individuals:
By the end of each episode (of "Hoarders")...the audience finds out if the featured hoarders have been able to get their behaviour under control or if they have “fallen into the deep end of this painful disease.”
The difference between these hoarders and those we have been reading about in recent days in newspapers like The Guardian and The Globe and Mail is that one group acquires “a large number of possessions that others would consider useless,” and the other acquires possessions of value like cash and assets.

But both suffer from the inability to discard their hoarded possessions.

Take corporate Canada. Progressive economists have been complaining for some time about their cash and asset hoarding. Canada’s Governor of the Bank of Canada, Mark Carney, has also been critical of corporate Canada’s hoarding practices, saying there is no reason keeping Canadian companies from investing.

Certainly they have been given incentive enough to do so. But billions in corporate tax cuts have instead been stockpiled on top of their more than half a trillion dollars in cash reserves, rather than invested in the economy.
 - The Star-Phoenix editorial board worries that the Council of the Federation's attempts to encourage cooperation on health care will come to nothing if we can't count on a federal government to take on exactly the leadership role the Harper Cons have abandoned:
Although eight years ago Ottawa was setting conditions on its grants and even talking about a national pharmacare program, including a universal bulk-buying strategy to control costs, the Harper government is clear about its disinclination to be a big part of Canada's flagship social contract.

Without any federal leadership, Canadians can expect their health system, like the dream of a national energy strategy, to be sacrificed at the altar of narrow-minded provincial politics.
- Dr. Dawg highlights the absurdity of the RCMP labeling anybody who dares to express concern about an anti-environment government and its resource-sector puppeteers as a security threat.

- Finally, I don't expect the suggestion to get far for a multitude of reasons. But Ralph Surette's proposal that younger Liberals (including Justin Trudeau) ought to turn their individual efforts to building the NDP at least offers a more plausible means to unite the vast majority of Canadian progressives than formal merger plans which would inevitably result in years of wrangling among two separate party structures.

Sunday Morning 'Rider Blogging

Yes, yesterday's loss to Hamilton made for another painful result for a team which outplayed its opponent for most of the game. But as with the previous week's defeat against Calgary, there are a few lessons the Saskatchewan Roughriders should be able to take from the outcome.

To start with, the offence again looks to have changed from a model which worked early to one which failed late.

On the 'Riders' first drive, two short-yardage gambles paid off by giving the team its first touchdown of the game - and in both cases, the offensive line thoroughly controlled the line of scrimmage against Hamilton's defence. (Indeed, the team's one fourth-quarter short-yardage play was also a screaming success, with Kory Sheets picking up 8 yards on a 2nd-and-1.)

Yet the 'Riders didn't show any particular confidence in their short-yardage offence when it had a chance to keep the offence moving when it counted most. And punting may have been safer option in their own zone, the choice to pass on 2nd and 2 from Hamilton's 40 could well have made all the difference between a game-winning field goal and the 47-yarder which Chris Milo missed.

The passing game also showed both plenty of potential, and some room for improvement in the 'Riders' choice of strategies. The 'Riders flashed loads of receiving depth (with 7 different players catching Darian Durant passes for gains of 18 yards or more), but spent much of the game largely targeting two players. And it's probably worth asking whether Chris Getzlaf should still be one of the team's primary options: while he's always been an effective big-play threat, he's shown few signs of avoiding the drops which have always made him an uncertain proposition as a possession receiver.

On defence, the 'Riders' major strength early in the season again evaporated when it mattered most. In the first half, 'Rider defenders managed to at least pressure Henry Burris on occasion - and that was enough to keep the Ticats' offence from accomplishing much even without piling up sacks or turnovers.

But late in the game, Burris regularly had time to burn before finding receivers on slow-developing patterns all over the field. And whether that was the result of the prevent defence again proving counterproductive or a more general failure, it's surely a point the 'Riders will need to work on in a league where all but one or two starting quarterbacks will thoroughly punish a defence for easing off.

For now, the 'Riders are at least in better shape than anybody should have expected going into their bye week. But it's still an open question whether they'll learn from falling just short in the last two games - or whether a sense of late-game futility will be a problem as the season progresses.